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Erie Canal: Little Falls and Moss Island

 

Little Falls, New York is a small city in the Mohawk Valley that has been shaped by the forces of water throughout its history. Nowhere in Little Falls is that more evident than at Moss Island. Representing the Industrial Age, this is home of Lock 17 the tallest lock along the Erie Canal, but there is also evidence of the Ice Age in the form of 40 foot deep glacial potholes from when there was an ancient waterfall that was even larger than Niagara Falls at this spot, once draining Glacial Lake Iroquois when other outlets (such as the St. Lawrence River) were blocked by retreating glaciers. While Little Falls does not have the amount of industry around the river and canal than it once had, checking out what Moss Island has to offer is a great way to see what the city has to offer.

Visiting Moss Island allows you to experience the engineering marvel that is the Erie Canal plus the wonders of nature by taking a hike around the island and seeing the glacial potholes. Avid rock climbers will also like the wide range of climbing opportunities available at Moss Island. But it is because of the island's geologic history that Moss Island was named a National Natural Landmark in 1976. It is easiest to get to Moss Island from NY Route 169 just to the south and east of downtown Little Falls. When I went, I parked underneath the highway bridge and made my way past the locks to the island.

First, you will encounter canal locks from the enlarged Erie Canal, a predecessor to the modern State Barge Canal system we have today. This was Lock 36 in the enlarged Erie Canal system. Only the south chamber of the lock exists today, as the north chamber was replaced by the modern day Lock 17.
Lock 17. With a lift of 40 1/2 feet, this is the tallest lock in the modern Erie Canal system. At one time, Lock 17 was the tallest lift lock in the world. Nowadays, that title goes to the Peterborough Lift Lock on the Trent Severn Waterway in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
You are at Lock 17.

A look into Lock 17. I was here in late November, so the canal was likely closed for the winter at that point.

For the old sign fans...

A sign noting Lock 17's claim to fame.
Some of the cliffs at Moss Island, which are popular with area rock climbers.

It is said that the rock at Moss Island is gneiss, a type of metamorphic rock.
There are trails to find your way to the glacial potholes of Moss Island. It is not a far hike around Island. I approached Moss Island from the east, and the trail starts right at Lock 17. If you are approaching from the west at Canal Place, the walk to the potholes is about 7/10 mile in length.
Some views of the cliffs and glacial potholes on the north side of Moss Island. Just picture a giant waterfall here, scouring the rocks to create the glacial potholes.

Some fallen leaves have filled in a part of the potholes.

Potholes, cliffs.

Some glacial potholes down by the river.

Unfortunately, someone decided to tag one of the beautiful glacial potholes.

More cliffs.
A parting shot of the cliffs before I hike back to my car.



How to Get There:


Sources and Links:
Canal Celebration - A City Born of Water
Explore Little Falls - Explore Little Falls, New York
Discover Upstate New York - Moss Island
The New York History Blog - Little Falls’ Lock 17: Engineering Marvel, Opened 100 Years Ago
Welcome to NYS Canals - Erie Canal Locks 2



Update Log:
February 21, 2019: Published original article to Unlocking New York.
August 22, 2021: Transferred article from Unlocking New York to Gribblenation.

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